Guard lends helping hand during snowstorm aftermath
Share with others:
Hundreds of Pennsylvania Army National Guard members traversed the city's most treacherous streets in Humvees Monday to help snowbound residents -- and paramedics and police, who struggled at times to reach them.
By nightfall, at least 337 Army personnel and 26 members of the state's Air National Guard were on the road or stationed in several local armories. Still more troops were headed to the city and Allegheny County to help emergency crews, who braced themselves for more snow today and Wednesday.
Gov. Ed Rendell dispatched the guard, and members responded to hundreds of calls since then, Capt. Kevin Ola said. They hit their peak late Sunday and early Monday, when "there was a time we were getting at least one call every 15 minutes," he said.
The calls reflected the typical range of troubles first responders handle every day, from heart attacks and broken bones to domestic disputes and deaths. But their efforts were complicated by nearly 2 feet of snow, still piled up on some roadways, which stranded motorists and the police cruisers and ambulances that came to their aid.
"We'll get calls for people who are stuck, and we can't even really respond to help them because we're getting stuck," said Pittsburgh police Lt. Robert Roth of the city's Hill District station. Police officers who did not travel in vans paired up with members of the Guard, responding to calls in more remote corners in Humvees, as low-riding police cruisers occasionally got lodged in the snow.
As forecasters warned of another storm ahead, Pittsburgh police officers were told they would be working in 12-hour shifts starting today.
The Guard will remain on hand until "the majority of the streets are clean and 911 calls are back to normal," Capt. Ola said.
Troops also sought to help residents get to one of seven warming stations in the county or get them to buses that would take them there.
Capt. Ola said he hoped the sight of Humvees would remind residents that they should seek help if they need it. He urged them to call the city's 311 line or 911 directly.
"Or don't be afraid if you see us driving around to come out and flag us down," he said. "We're here to help."
Among the troops who bore through snow and slush with relative ease were 2nd Lt. Rachel Markovich and Staff Sgt. Eric Miller, of the 128th Brigade Support Battalion. The pair spent much of the day accounting for their fellow troops. Both got the call to duty Sunday night.
"You're just like, OK," Lt. Markovich said. "Time to go to work."
First Published February 9, 2010 12:00 am